Last day to get ebooks by Georgette Heyer for $1.99 each


Georgette HeyerWe don’t normally focus on non-Austen-related books, but for this we will make an exception. Sourcebooks is offering ebooks of Georgette Heyer’s novels for $1.99 each–the historical novels as well as the mysteries–in celebration of The Divine One’s 109th birthday. Also, Jennifer Kloester’s book Jane Austen’s Regency World is also available for $1.99. We own it in hardback from when it first came out in the UK, but were happy to repurchase it for our Nook at such a great price!

If you haven’t read Georgette Heyer’s books, and you’re a Jane Austen fan, you will very likely enjoy them. Her writing is clever and extremely funny, and her historical research is legendary. Austen gave few details about clothing and manners in her time period, because she was writing for a contemporary audience; Heyer fills in all these delightful details, particularly about clothing. Unlike in Austen’s work, these details inform the story as much as they are not particularly needed for Austen. As we’ve written before, the time period setting was incidental for Austen, and intrinsic for Heyer. It should be noted that Heyer’s books are set among the aristocracy–most of her characters are titled or related to those who are–and Austen’s novels are set more among country gentry, and there are differences in the way such groups behaved.

Like Austen’s novels, the historical books, which nowadays are marketed as “romances,” are really more comedies of manners with romantic plotlines. That’s why we think Austen fans are more accepting and fond of Heyer’s books than hardcore readers of the romance genre, who have certain expectations for structure, characterization, and content. (we don’t mean to generalize; naturally there is a great deal of crossover. Like with Austen, extremes should be avoided.) There is absolutely no sexual content in Heyer’s novels except crushing embraces that involve smooching; though Heyer’s characters discuss the facts of life and know where babies come from, and with the marriage-of-convenience novels, it is clear whether the marriages have been consummated. We don’t think the books suffer from this absence of sexual content.

Some drawbacks are an occasional overuse of thieves’ cant and “flash-talk” as the characters call it; Austen, of course, rarely allowed her characters to use slang, except the vulgar and silly characters, and there is some evidence that, though there is a historical basis for the cant, that no one actually used it to that extent. It is, however, part of the Heyer style, and once you get used to it–and learn what some of it means–it’s not that difficult to read. Heyer also really! likes! exclamation points! Which can be jarring for modern readers; but her grammar is impeccable, her language rich, her references scholarly, her style inimitable. We can’t recommend her books more highly to our Gentle Readers. Sourcebooks has done a real public service by republishing them for a U.S. audience. We are old-school and had to send overseas and comb secondhand stores for our collection!

Of the historical novels (we won’t call them romances, as they don’t really fit the modern romance genre, as some recent reviews have shown) we recommend:

Cotillion, which still makes us laugh until we cry and has one of the most unlikely and adorable heroes ever;

A Civil Contract, which is pretty much the anti-romance, but the characters and story are so beautifully constructed and written that it haunts us for days after a re-read;

Venetia, which we did not grow to appreciate until after Richard Armitage read it to us–it is romantic and sexy and beautiful, and still fall-down funny, with great minor characters and a beautiful, strong-but-not-annoyingly-feisty heroine and a hero wounded in spirit and redeemed by love;

The Grand Sophy, which has our favorite Heyer heroine and one of the craziest, madcap, funniest setups for a big final Christie-style setpiece at the end that we’ve ever read (and unfortunately a brief bit of nasty and extremely unfortunate stereotyping that has ruined the book for some people; it makes us cringe, but we’ve read the book so many times that we sort of sidle by that part with our eyes averted);

Friday’s Child – another marriage of convenience novel and fall-down hilarious, particularly the hero’s collection of friends;

False Colours – not considered a favorite among Heyerites, but it is with us as it was our first Heyer (and we read it fifteen years before we ever read Jane Austen, by the way; but didn’t read a second until many years later). The characters are delicious–the practical but lively heroine, the dashingly dependable hero, his delightfully flighty and beautiful mother, and her hilarious suitors and relatives–there is a bit of a Hercule-Poirot-get-everyone-in-a-room-and-tell-us-the-ending ending, making one think that Heyer wrote herself in a corner and tired of it so decided to end it in one fast scene. But the romantic couple is irresistible and there are just so many fall-down hilarious moments that it’s worth a read;

The Alastair series–The Black Moth, These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub, and An Infamous Army, read in that order (and read Regency Buck between the third and fourth, as characters from that novel show up in An Infamous Army). Regency Buck was Heyer’s first Regency, and therefore the Ur-Regency, and can be a trifle info-dumpy. Not all of Heyer’s historical novels are set in the Regency–the Alastair books, except the last one, are all set in the mid- to late 18th century;

We actually already had ebooks of all the historical books, so we picked up all of La Heyer’s mysteries, which are contemporary to the time they were written (in other words, the 1930s and 1940s). If you like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayer, as we do, you will find these mysteries enjoyable and stylish. Footsteps in the Dark was the Nook Free Fridays selection a couple of weeks ago, and we inhaled it and thoroughly enjoyed it (and we think Austen fans, particularly NA fans, will LOVE it–it takes place at an old abbey that is haunted by a ghost called The Monk! C’mon!). We are currently enjoying The Unfinished Clue, which reminds us tremendously of not only NA (irascible former General who is mean to his wife and rakehell eldest son is murdered–probably what some people were looking for in There Must Be Murder) and, in being an English house-party setting, also of the film Gosford Park. There are two detective series–Inspector Hemingway and Inspector Hannasyde, which is not at all confusing–and a couple more standalones.

Due to unforeseen circumstances (which included power outages and train misbehavior) we had no time or energy to blog this past week, so we are sorry that we did not bring this to our Gentle Readers’ attention sooner, but hope that many of you see it, or saw it elsewhere, in time to take advantage of this great offer.

A Very Short Editorial Comment on Perspective


In future, when the Editrix expresses a negative opinion on the Rev. Mr. Edmund Bertram, she would be pleased if her Gentle Readers would reply simply, “St. John Rivers,” as it will serve as a useful reminder. We thank you, as always, for your support.

“They were wretched comforters for one another.”


The Japanese love Jane Austen, and we are keeping our brothers and sisters in Jane (and everyone in Japan) in our heart in this terrible time. Please consider donating to the many relief agencies who are assisting in the disaster. (But have a care and be sure they are legitimate!).

Bingley’s Teas is donating the proceeds of any purchase of their Organic Japan Sencha tea for 60 days from March 14.

Jane Austen is Never Done


A blogger and author has declared that Jane Austen’s books should not be “forced upon” students studying English literature.

We are not going to jump all over this author, or even beat her into a virtually bloody pulp with the Cluebat of Janeite Righteousness. Perhaps a few love taps, but not a beating. We do not expect everyone to love Jane Austen’s novels. However, we do want to refute a few points in this particular blog post, and point out why it is indeed important to study Jane Austen’s novels as part of an English literature curriculum.

Teachers teach Jane Austen because she is easy to teach, familiar, and non-controversial.

There is probably a note of truth in that. Jane Austen’s books do not usually appear on banned books lists. However, there is a very good historical reason to study Austen in an overview of Western literature. In our high-school AP English class back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, we studied everything from Greek tragedies to 20th-century dystopian novels, and the progression of the development of literature–when well-taught–is as fascinating as the literature itself. This development is more from a technical point of view. You see a progression from the Greek chorus and deus ex machina through the epistolary novels of Richardson through the dark Victorian melodrama of Joyce and Eliot through the experimentation of Faulkner and spare language of Hemingway and social commentary of Fitzgerald and Orwell–the progression and development of literature, each generation building on the other, is easy to see.*

So where does Jane Austen fit into this? She fits into the slot between the 18th-century novelists–Richardson, Burney, Radcliffe–and the Victorians–Eliot, James. That’s a fairly large jump. Plainly stated, the development of modern conventions of plotting and narration and characterization and the general construction of what we think of as a novel were pioneered in the novels of Jane Austen. She was heavily influenced by the novels she read–we know Austen was a big fan of Richardson and Burney, and she could not have written such an affectionately perfect parody of Radcliffe as Northanger Abbey unless she enjoyed The Mysteries of Udolpho–and yet she improved upon them. Our book group just last week met to discuss Burney’s Evelina, which we all enjoyed immensely, and yet we all noticed that there were all these minor characters and subplots that, while hilarious, did nothing to move the plot along–something that a modern author would be told to remove from her manuscript. Jane Austen built hilarious minor characters into her books, and even a few funny subplots, but they all serve to move the main plot. This is a technical improvement that is crucial to the development of the novel, and is certainly worthy of the attention even of a modern teenager who has important texting to tend to before deigning to read a book.

But generation after generation of high schoolers are left with the impression that Austen’s novels are what writing should be, and it’s poisoning them. Long descriptions, endless parlor scenes, pace that drags across empty weeks and months.

Maybe she should have just left blank pages with months written on them to show the passage of time. We hear that a popular modern author that the kids like to read finds that a workable proposition.

It’s not beautiful language and astonishingly complex human relationships, as Shakespeare is.

Wait, what? Did she read the same Austen novels we did? The syntax is gorgeous and the characterizations are complex and nuanced. The latter at least is not very apparent in Austen’s predecessors. Because novels were considered something that young people should not read, heroes and heroines tended to be annoyingly and boringly perfect. (Read the first chapter of Northanger Abbey to understand how the normal teenager Catherine Morland is so very unlike a typical heroine of her time.) Austen made it okay to have a flawed hero–or heroine!–in a novel. Part of the interest of Austen’s heroes and villains is that the villains appear, at first, to be heroes, if one is accustomed to the novels of her time period: they have excellent address, they are handsome, they are everything a hero should appear to be; and the heroes have personality defects, such as snobbish pride or shyness or a compulsion to make fun of everything that amuses him; but when push comes to shove, the real hero shows his true worth. And so it is in real life. That sort of thing is normal now, but that’s because the writers learned it from…Jane Austen.

It’s ploddingly dysfunctional and does not help young writers learn their craft or young anybody learn how to communicate.

The dysfunctionality is kind of the point. In Jane Austen’s time, people could not communicate because of social restrictions. It isn’t until the happy couple becomes engaged at the end that they can communicate freely. In Austen’s society, an unbetrothed couple simply can’t communicate. There was no Dr. Phil or Oprah or Savage Love to get them in touch with their feelings. They had to suffer in silence and hope that something happened to push things along. However, people did meet and marry and learn to talk, otherwise the race would not have propagated. Plots can be built around such things, just as they can be built around modern conventions such as serial killers and police procedurals and supernatural creatures who walk among us. ;-)

We find it ironic that anyone who professes herself an author can discount Jane Austen’s work so cavalierly. We’re not saying they will necessarily be everyone’s cup of tea, but Austen’s novels are an important part of the development of Western literature, and without her books, you might not be writing at all–or writing very differently.

We would love it if those who teach English literature at both the high-school and university level would weigh in on this topic. Why do you teach Jane Austen, and what do you expect your students to take away from it?

*Unfortunately in our class we skipped over the 18th century and half of the 19th entirely. Yes, we did not study Jane Austen. Yet in our education we were forced to read Wuthering Heights TWICE. (We joke. Studying Wuthering Heights is very important to developing novelists. If the story is unpleasant, the language and technical details are crucial to the development of literature.)

The Quality of Luck


We were really pleased to see in the Jane Austen Centre online magazine an article by Patrice Hannon in which she discussed her road to publication of two Jane Austen-related book, Dear Jane Austen and 101 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen. We were delighted not because the Editrix got a shoutout in the article (though it’s always nice to get an unexpected egoboo) but because it’s such a great story for aspiring authors.

There is a persistent belief among aspiring authors (and some readers) that one must “know someone” to get published, or have some kind of inside track. There is a grain of truth in this, but what is not acknowledged is that authors who are seen as “lucky” or “in the right place at the right time” are almost always someone who has worked very hard and had her hard work noticed and rewarded by putting herself in the position to take advantage of her “lucky” break. There are few really overnight successes.

It also should be pointed out that Patrice Hannon not only put herself out there by taking a part-time job mostly to sell her own book, and by believing in herself sufficiently to put in the time and work to promote it and get it noticed, but by backing it all up by writing good books. When asked to recommend someone to write a book on Jane Austen, the Editrix recommended Dr. Hannon because her deep knowledge (and love) of Jane Austen’s work came through on every page of Dear Jane Austen. If it had been a mediocre book, it would have ended there.

Jane Austen herself spent more than 20 years honing her craft before being published, and one can see the progress of her genius through each of her books. While publishing was set up a little differently in those days, without much more of a barrier to first publication than the ability to guarantee any losses experienced by the publisher, if her books weren’t great, they would have been forgotten like the other hundreds of books published in that time. Even the bestselling authors of her day–Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Samuel Richardson–are not widely known or read today. Work hard–and produce good stuff.

Albert Einstein famously once said that genius is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. We would add that luck, at least in publishing, is some percentage of genius and a larger percentage of work. Don’t expect the Publishing Fairy to come down and smack you with her magic wand. As Conan O’Brien said, work really hard and be kind and amazing things will happen. It’s true!

Sounds like this is a job for the Cluebat of Janeite Righteousness (UPDATED)


UPDATE, 3:25 p.m.: Success! The ladies from the Derbyshire Writers Guild, which shares the austen dot com domain, were as disturbed by this situation as the rest of us. They contacted the domain owner, who claimed that the requests to remove the offending material were sent to an outdated e-mail address and that he had never received them, and now that he knows about the objections, he will do so. So many thanks to Crystal and Margaret from the DWG for intervening! *tosses confetti*

It really warms our icy, tar-coated, dried-up spinster heart to see the way Janeites online have come together on this situation. We know Laurel Ann very much appreciates all the goodwill as well.
We are very disturbed by a situation presently taking place involving our friend and fellow Jane-blogger Laurel Ann and her excellent blog Austenprose.

The owner of austen dot com (which also houses the Derbyshire Writer’s Guild, which part of the site was not involved in this situation) contacted us a while back and asked if we would like to write for the blog he was setting up called Jane Austen Blog. (ETA: Please don’t go looking for the site; we purposely did not provide a link, because we don’t want to drive traffic to that site.) We responded that we already had an established blog that kept us very busy, and by the way our blog, which had been around for four years, had a similar name, so please call your blog something else. (It was changed to Austen Dot Com Blog, which is really, really different. Not.) Laurel Ann said he also wrote to her and she also turned him down, again, because she had plenty to do on her own, already established blog. He attempted to recruit other writers to blog, but they all seemed to lose interest pretty quickly. The owner of the site (really the owner of the austen dot com domain, who we are told is not a Jane Austen enthusiast in any way) then set up the blog to simply be an aggregation of RSS feeds, of both a Google News feed of anything mentioning Jane Austen–we get such a Google Alert ourself, and it is 99 percent useless–and also using the RSS feed from Austenprose.

RSS feeds, for those who do not know, feed the content from one site to another set up by an end user. A reader can set up an RSS aggregator–for instance, Google Reader–to get the posts from the blogs and newspapers she likes to read, all on one page. She has to click through to comment, and in some cases to read the entire post, but in many cases the entire post is collected in the feed and published to the feed reader. Therefore, because Laurel Ann set up her blog that way for the convenience of her loyal readers, the entire content of her posts was published on this other blog, with all identifying information stripped away. It was made to look as though Laurel Ann was actually writing posts on this other blog, when of course she was not. In other words, they were basically stealing her content.

While it can be said that Laurel Ann provided her posts as an RSS feed and the site owner was just taking advantage of it, this is clearly a misuse of the RSS feed; and Laurel Ann has asked the site owner repeatedly to not use her feed in this way, and he has ignored her requests.

Why would he do this? you may wonder. For SEO–search engine optimization. Search engines would pick up HIS blog as having desirable content that people were searching for on Jane Austen, thereby raising the value of his own site, and driving visitors to his site, where he has Google ads installed. Each visitor to his site, visiting because they think there is good, original content on the page, gets him some money. (You’ll notice that there are, at present, no ads on Austenprose.)

Does it work? Just a week or so ago, we received from a correspondent a link that she thought we would find of interest, which she received in a Google Alert for “Pride and Prejudice.” Though the URL said austen dot com blog, we knew it to be a post from Austenprose, because we had read it there, and immediately let our correspondent know the true situation. She had simply sent it because she received the e-mail. She thought the content belonged to the site where she had sent us. And why not? It was set up to look that way.

Gentle Reader, you may wonder why the Editrix is so exercised about this situation. We are entirely sympathetic to Laurel Ann’s plight and would also be upset at such a use of our content, because we know how much time and effort goes into keeping up an excellent blog like Austenprose. It is not just the writing and the posting, but the time spent assembling links, and the hours and hours and hours searching the web for information and links. We can’t imagine the hours she spends on her special events concentrating on a single Austen book, not to mention herding the cats, er, writers who contribute guest posts. And we Jane bloggers don’t do it for money; in fact, we usually spend our own money doing it. We do it for the love of Jane Austen, and because we really enjoy interacting with our readers. It makes us exceedingly angry that someone would just take that hard work so boldly. It’s like having your necklace snatched and then seeing the trampy little piece that took it strutting down the street wearing it, and then slapping you in the face for good measure.

We just wanted to make everyone aware of this situation, and swing the Cluebat of Janeite Righteousness a little bit, because a site purporting to operate in the name of Jane Austen and her fans should be held to a higher standard of behavior. This kind of crap is all very well for garbage spam blogs, but the Janeites deserve much better. This is so Not What Jane Would Do.

Also, like Laurel Ann we’ve changed the way our blog is presented in RSS readers; instead of whole posts, you will now see partial posts, and must click through to read on our blog. We are sorry to take this step and inconvenience those Gentle Readers using the RSS feed for legitimate purposes.

Disclaimer and Disclosurability


(Trying to make the title sound Jane Austenish, and not really succeeding.)

If anyone cares (we’re looking at you, Federal Trade Commission), we’ve updated our disclaimers and information about book and other media reviews on AustenBlog in light of new “guidelines” from the FTC about blogger reviews and endorsements. We have mixed feelings about these new guidelines; we’ve long deplored the behavior of bloggers who seem to look at their blogging activities as a teat of swag upon which to suckle, and feel the need to keep the goodies flowing by only giving positive reviews of said swag (which, to our knowledge, have included free tickets and Amazon gift certificates for reviewing a certain film that was not very popular around AustenBlog World Headquarters). We have to admit that the first time we were offered a book to review, we were briefly seduced by the vision of a river of free swag flowing towards our door; but when we began to drown under the weight of Not Another Pride and Prejudice Sequel Oh My Godfathers Make It Stop*, the “free” swag doesn’t seem quite so free anymore. The Crack Staff Reviewers of AustenBlog work for their bread, Gentle Readers, trust us, and we find these “guidelines” to be not only insulting to our ethics but overkill. We wonder if Michiko Kakutani has to return the books she reviews at pain of an $11,000 fine? And we’re quite certain that Ms. Kakutani is not a volunteer, as are the lovely and talented AustenBlog reviewers.

It is our experience that, while some authors (and their fanpoodles) have taken it amiss when we did not cry hosannas and toss rose petals at their feet for deigning to grace the unwashed Janeites with their deathless prose, and while some publicists have been a touch grumpy at less than positive reviews, in most cases they were pleased that we reviewed the book at all, because it brought the book to the attention of those who might be most interested in it. In other words, the system works. Most issues we have had about reviews have come from the lack of a review for a book sent. Our reviewers are volunteers, and sometimes get busy and sometimes find the book too boring or stupid to finish. There have been books that we have retrieved (at our own expense) from reviewers and sent to other reviewers (at our own expense) in a desperate attempt to get someone to read it. In some cases, it has taken three or four reviewers to read a book before it finally got reviewed; in some cases *coughMrDarcyTakesAWifecough* several reviewers have hated a book so much that they refused to finish it, and it was never reviewed.

We have never felt an obligation to give books good reviews because we were provided with a free copy, but we admit of late that we have mostly avoided reviewing books we did not enjoy. The other AustenBlog reviewers have fortunately felt no such missish scruples. ;-) That being said, if the Editrix said she liked a book, you can be sure that she really liked it, and if she gushed immoderately over it, that she loved it. That doesn’t guarantee everyone else will like it, of course.

It should also be pointed out that the “free books” with which we are provided are not always the copies one can purchase in one’s Friendly Neighborhood Book Emporium. They often are Advanced Reading Copies, or ARCs, and sometimes have been created from manuscripts that are still being proofread, and are bound early in the publication process so that reviewers can have a review ready to go on the publication date. Such ARCs can contain errors of punctuation or layout and typos that are fixed before final publication. These ARCs cannot be resold (technically, though some reviewers do it). Yet the FTC considers such books “compensation” for writing a review. As we said, our Crack Staff Reviewers (and our lovely Guest Reviewers as well) work for their bread, Gentle Readers, such bread as it is. Anyway, in future, we will probably post some kind of disclaimer with our book and other media reviews. But in general, the Editrix is not compensated for the blog and in fact it costs us a few dollars a year to run. We also will reveal where we get swag for giveaways, though we have always considered our Gentle Readers intelligent enough to know that they mostly come from those purveying the item. We hope these measures will appease The Powers That Be.

*Not to pick on P&P sequels, but hello authors, she wrote five other books! We know there are readers who can’t get enough of P&P sequels and prequels and rewrites and reimaginings and modern updates, and we are told that books inspired by the other novels don’t sell well enough to publish (which in itself is a curious fact), but our reviewers agree that a little variety would be a good thing.